Open Streets (are) for People

Let’s Open the Streets for People!

According to urban planning heartthrob Gil Peñalosa, Open Streets means “people traffic replaces car traffic, and the streets become ‘paved parks’ where people of all ages, abilities, and social, economic, or ethnic backgrounds can come out and improve their mental, physical, and emotional health.”

“Open Streets” as a concept has been around since the mid-60s when Seattle created the carfree celebration “Seattle Bicycle Sundays.” While a smattering of similar events popped up around North America that decade, they didn’t last long.

Bogotá, Columbia introduced their own version, Ciclovía, in 1974 and has been a primary source of inspiration for today’s Open Streets initiatives. Bogotá’s Ciclovía ambitiously closes 70 miles of the city to cars and opens them to one million participants every Sunday.

First Carfree Day in DC

I was so smitten with this idea that I gathered together some like-minded individuals to organize the first Carfree Day in Washington, DC in 2007. It started out as an all volunteer effort and we threw our hearts, souls, and soles into the idea. We developed a collaborative (and pretty good-looking!) proposal, making the case for Open Streets in the nation’s capital and canvassed hundreds of residents and businesses for their support. Councilmember Tommy Wells introduced a bill declaring September 22 Carfree DC Day and the following year DC’s Carfree Day spread to embrace Maryland and Virginia and is now known as Car-Free Metro DC.

Portland, San Francisco, and New York launched their own interpretations of the Ciclovía in 2008 and there seems to be no sign of these incredible innovations losing steam. According to the Open Streets Project, there are currently over 100 initiatives around the world and cities are scrambling to offer similar amenities to their residents and tourists.

Commuting by cartwheel before the crowds arrive at San Francisco’s Sunday Streets

Opening the Streets to People in San Francisco

I had the excellent opportunity to work with San Francisco’s Open Streets program, “Sunday Streets” and saw the elation on faces of all ages and backgrounds as people joined their friends, neighbors, and soon-to-be friends on the street.

At 10:59am, it’s business as usual, but when the clock strikes 11, the street belongs to people! Leaping into the streets, people walk, run, saunter, frolic, skate, do yoga, dance, take classes, prance, cartwheel, or bike.

Active exploration of the city is encouraged and embraced. The saddest part of the day is 4pm, when the program ends until the next month and people are once again relegated to the sidewalks.

Open Streets are Spectacular Opportunities for Businesses

Though Open Streets events are wildly fun, free adventures for everyone, they are not just spectacular for individuals, they’re also a great boon to local businesses.

It’s quite common for business owners to fret initially that cars won’t be driving by, but it doesn’t take long for most to recognize — and reap — the benefits of people passing by on foot or bike. 

When people are enjoying themselves in the streets, rather than driving over and past them, there is a much greater likelihood of them patronizing a business that they may not have noticed before.

Sunday Streets is now so popular among businesses that the program cannot keep up with the demand!

 This charming video shows a slice of Sunday Streets in the Mission.

When I lived in the dreamy city of Pittsburgh several years ago, I drew up a plan to make the Strip District more accessible and pleasurable for people crammed onto sidewalks already packed with vendors. The idea hasn’t quite been realized, but there is now Open Streets Pittsburgh which started in 2014 and I am thrilled to be able to attend this weekend for the first time. Perhaps it is a first step to removing cars from the Strip District!

There’s No Stopping Open Streets

At last, it seems that there is no stopping the Open Streets movement.

Where can we go from here? Where should we go from here? 

Have you had the chance to experience your city from the middle of the street?

What would you like to see in your city or town?

Share your thoughts in the comments below! If you’d like to find out more, I highly recommend checking out the excellent work of Streetfilms to see some of these plans in action around the world.


What a Fantastic Morning! Walking, Yoga, Local Businesses, Delicious Foods

I woke at 5:30am and before 9 am, I had walked two miles, attended two yoga classes, and patronized four local businesses!

It’s getting better.

I started the day by walking to Yoga Hive, a new yoga studio recently opened by Kimberly Musial. Since they just opened, they have a special rate and you can try it out for $10 for two weeks. Just ten dollars — for unlimited classes!

This photo is not me. Taken by flickr user Shunpikie

So after a lovely first sweaty class, I stayed for the “Guided Meditation” which was so soothing and effective at quieting my constantly rushing mind that I think I may have fallen asleep. It was an incredibly restful feeling and left me feeling like I didn’t have a care in the world. I was even able to block out the car sounds outside on Penn Ave — a feat that is nearly impossible for me.

After yoga, I grabbed the newspaper from a convenience store, a cup of coffee from Voluto to sip while reading the Post-Gazette. My stroll home was lovely, too, and I stopped at People’s Grocery for an onion to assemble my future magnificent breakfast.

The Breakfast Brigade: Bagels, Mushrooms, Habaneros, Oh My!

I have a swell breakfast routine and it involves listening to NPR while whipping up a fairly elaborate bagel based meal and then reading the newspaper while eating.

Here’s my incredibly addictive breakfast:

  • An everything bagel (or two), sliced, toasted.
  • Cream cheese (onion and chives!)
  • Sliced onion
  • Thin slices of apple
  • A delicious cheese (I usually use Havarti with Dill or some cheddar)
  • Habanero (if you like it, I can’t have a meal without one)
  • Cilantro (if you like it, if you’ve got it, I love it)
  • Sauteed mushroom (these last two if you want to get really fancy, I do)
  • Sauteed spinach

After you’ve toasted the bagel, cover it with cream cheese.

Slice the apple paper thin and place 2-3 slices all over the bottom half of the bagel. This will cover the hole of the bagel and allow you to cover it with even more food.

Just a small part of my habanero stash that I saved for my move from DC to Pittsburgh last year

Throw some onion on top of that for crunch and flavor.

Add mushrooms and spinach.

Cover all of the food with thin slices of your extra cheese to melt. Put the bagel back in the toaster oven or broiler and melt the cheese.

Add cilantro and minced habanero to the top and then cover with the other half of the bagel.

Slice in half and savor the massive six inch high bagel. I wish I had a picture to show you but I get so excited about my bagel that I eat too fast!

Now I’m walking to work because sometimes I like to move even more slowly than my bicycle.

Have a great day!

Public Space

Life Lesson: Don’t Honk at Old People

My friend Irene pointed me in the direction of this unintentional PSA. The story is that a girl is filming some cute boys skateboarding and turns around to witness this scene. It might be fake, but it still gets the point across. Go granny!

Enjoy and share (especially with anyone with an overdeveloped sense of entitlement):

UPDATE, August 29: So it DOES turn out to be fake. According to commenter Gene W, “It’s an old IKEA commercial. Airbags don’t really work that way (you have to be moving).”

Still gets the point across: don’t honk at old people.

Public Space

The United States is Now Criss-Crossed by Nearly Four Million Miles of Roadways

And what we need is more trees, less highways.

Photo by flickr user shawnconna

I found this article the other day when browsing the site of the very excellent organization Friends of the Pittsburgh Urban Forest and thought it was worth sharing. Notice especially the part in italics:

Why Shade Trees? The Unexpected Benefit

Davis, CA (November 1, 2007)- We would all prefer to walk down a tree-lined street to one without trees, but did you know that the street itself prefers to run under trees? This report examines the cost-saving benefits of having shaded streets. All other factors equal, the condition of pavement on tree-shaded streets is better than on unshaded streets. In fact, shaded roads require significantly less maintenance and can save up to 60% of repaving costs over 30 years.

After more than 100 years of road and highway building, the United States is now criss-crossed by nearly four million miles of roadways. Add in all the parking lots, private roads, driveways, and road shoulders, and the total amount of paved land comes to approximately one percent of the total area of the contiguous United States. The cost of maintaining this asphalt can be lowered through urban tree planting.

Photo by flickr user scratch n sniff

Asphalt streets are a combination of filler materials, known as aggregate, and a binder- asphalt cement- on top of one or more layers of gravel and compacted soil. As pavement temperatures rise, the binder evaporates and breaks down and the pavement begins to harden, making it easier for cracks to form. Tree planting along roads provides shade, thereby improving pavement conditions. According to research conducted by this study, 20% shade on a street improves pavement condition by 11%, which is a 60% savings for resurfacing over 30 years. Read Tips for Street Shading Trees

Three Easy Things You Can Do

1. Learn to identify the trees in your neighborhood

2. Become a tree tender at your local urban forestry or tree organization

3. Write to your local legislators to voice support to fund tree planting programs


Planning Walking and Biking Routes

What is important to you when you plan a bicycle or walking route?

For me it’s easy:

1. Shady trails or tree-lined streets

2. Carfree or car-light

I like to reduce my potential for interacting with automobiles.

Two of my bicycle riding co-workers were recently surprised when I said that a shady route was one of my main considerations — they’d never thought of it; and I was surprised they never noticed. There is a massive Pleasure Differential between riding under a tree-lined street or path and riding under the relentless sun.

What would make you walk or ride your bicycle more?


Which Way to Go? Planning Walking and Biking Routes

What is important to you when you plan a bicycle or walking route?

For me it’s easy:

1. Shady trails or tree-lined streets

2. Car-free or car-light

I like to reduce my potential for interacting with automobiles.

Two of my bicycle riding co-workers were recently surprised when I said that a shady route was one of my main considerations — they’d never thought of it; and I was surprised they never noticed. There is a massive Pleasure Differential between riding under a tree-lined street or path and riding under the relentless sun.

What would make you walk or ride your bicycle more?


Nine Years as a Car-free Lady!

Today is my nine year anniversary of living without a car!

When I graduated from college, I just didn’t want to spend my money on a car. I wanted to buy new shoes and eat at a million new restaurants! So I moved to Chicago where I could take the bus or train anywhere I wanted day or night, close to my house.

And when I left Chicago, I moved to Washington, DC. I lived in five different neighborhoods: H Street NE, Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, Dupont Circle, and Brookland.

While I was never more than a few steps away from a bus or train, I could walk to plenty of places as well. Numerous grocery stores, farmers markets, ethnic markets, restaurants, bars, parks were easily walkable for many parts of DC. (And many that have far fewer resources of course).

Owning a car seemed like a waste of money and time. Most of the people I saw in cars were sitting in traffic. Not many looked like they were enjoying themselves.

And they were paying money do to it.

I took the bus and train in DC for several years before I decided to save some dollars, make my own schedule and start riding a bicycle.

I had no idea how much I would love it!

After a few months I found a bicycle that I could afford, I liked, and that fit me. I’m kind of short!

Me and a sunflower I grew at my house in DC last year.

(PS: I didn’t  have a camera for several years so I am lacking in some photographic evidence, but if you’d like to see some more pictures of my garden, go here!)

I would have started riding a bike all the time, every day and night, had I known how much more free I felt!

I bought my first bike for $300 after years of not really riding and within the first week I rode 80 miles. I’ve never raced or competed or considered it. I use my bicycle to get around and I spend almost no money on transportation, PLUS I get in shape!

Everyone does push-ups at their going away party, right?

And though this might be a bit late…

If you’ve ever considered biking for transportation, tomorrow is a great day to start.

It’s National Bike to Work Day! Events, group rides, and free food are happening all over the country. Check your local bike advocacy organization for information!

Pittsburgh’s Bike to Work Day coincides with the first of a series of Carfree Fridays happening around the city for the summer.

Public Space

Please Stop Parking on the Sidewalk

I was surprised when I moved to Pittsburgh to find that parking on the sidewalk seems to be somewhat common and tacitly accepted.

Truck on Penn Ave sidewalk in Lawrenceville

Someone explained to me that the streets were built before large trucks became prominent so there is not enough space on the road for drivers to drive and drivers to park, so the move onto the sidewalk began.

But where are pedestrians supposed to go?

Walking up to this giant truck in Lawrenceville there was no option but to step into the traffic on Penn Ave. I can hop around it, but I shouldn’t have to.

What about parents with a stroller? A grandmother in a wheelchair? A man using a cane? There are no options except walking directly into the path of traffic.

Anyone walking by is forced to walk into the busy street to get around this truck

This is a truck parked on the sidewalk in the Strip District:

Large truck blocking the sidewalk in the Strip District

When I asked someone else about it they responded it wasn’t a problem on this particular street because “No one really walks there anyway”.

No kidding! Why would anyone WANT to walk somewhere if you were going to be dodging cars and trucks when crossing the street and trying to escape them on the sidewalk too?

For more delightful images of “Space hogs” around the world, check out the Streetsblog photo contest from last year.

And if you drive, please think about your neighbors before you decide to park on the sidewalk.


Help Flood Victims in Nashville


With all the excitement and rage about BP’s reckless management of offshore drilling, the massive flooding of Nashville has lost opportunities for press coverage and sympathy. If you have some extra money lying around and want to donate to restoration efforts in the land of country music, the Community Foundation is a non-profit organization that is accepting donations of any size.

In partnership with Davidson County’s Office of Emergency Management, The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee has activated its Metro Nashville Disaster Response Fund to help to those affected by the May 1, 2010 floods. Donations of any size are welcome. Grants from the fund will support relief and restoration in the Davidson County area.

Photo by Southern Tabitha, Flickr

Nashville is the city where I was born, where my parents bought their first house, where I learned how to walk, and talk, and ride a bike. It’s the home of my grandma who gave me my name and tons of vintage clothes, as well as the home of numerous aunts, uncles, dozens of cousins, and relatives that I haven’t even met yet.

Flooding in Nashville, Photo by Southern Tabitha, Flickr

Nashville is my first city. I was born there and lived right by Vanderbilt University until I was seven, and I even went on my first upside down roller coaster there. I started my life walking everywhere: to school, to the grocery store, to friends’ houses, to the park down the street. Nashville is the fantastic city that I no longer know but that spoiled me for the next ten years that I spent living in the suburbs of Washington, DC. (Sorry parents, but blech! What a wretched departure!)

Yield to Pedestrians

So if you have a little disposable income and want to help out some people who are drowning in dirty water, please pass some dollars along to the Community Foundation or another reputable non-profit.

For a little swoon from my childhood, here is the Dragon Park down the street from my semi-ancestral home:

The Dragon Park, photo by Brent, flickr

For more pictures of this incredible park, check out this blog on Mosaic Art.


Can’t Get There From Here

The Woeful Tale of a Stranded Pedestrian

This is the soundtrack for my exploration stroll the other day around my neighborhood, East Allegheny in Pittsburgh. Unless you loathe R.E.M., it is a good accompaniment to reading this post.

Several times in the past I have celebrated my neighborhood and home on the North Side of Pittsburgh. But I have to tell you that I exaggerated a little and omitted a lot.

There are many beautiful areas of the North Side and much of it is quaint, wonderful, and convenient. But I have to confess: I live on the OTHER North Side, the part that was cut in half by a neighborhood dividing highway.

Highway to Hell

The parts that contain all the amenities like the National Aviary, the Andy Warhol Museum, coffee shops, grocery stores, and parks are all on the other side of this highway:

That is the scene I have to ride or walk across when heading to other, more lovelier parts of the North Side.

And if I want to go downtown or shopping in the Strip District, I find myself faced with these (rude) anti-pedestrian signs:

Riding bikes is not as challenging since you’re on the road, but if you are trying to get around by foot, as are children and many elderly who do not own cars, it is a death-trap.

Run for Your Lives!

Getting to the bus stop is quite perilous and I waited through three lights at one intersection waiting for a pedestrian signal.

I assume most drivers don’t carry a microscope when they drive, but if they did, they might be able to see the faded lines of the former crosswalk. Otherwise, the former crosswalk is pretty easy to miss.

Then your friendly pedestrian must run across another faded crosswalk, but this time there is a light for the walker! But nope.

Over 50 cars drove by in three light cycles and not one stopped to let me cross, so I finally had to just make a run for it to cross this eyesore of an intersection:

What if you depend on a wheelchair to get around?

It’d be nearly impossible to get around this neighborhood.

What if you use a wheelchair to get around and don’t have a car?

Seems like that should be hazardous enough, right? How much more must danger one person face just to walk one mile?

I’m fairly young and in shape, I ride a bike and move around all the time and this area is really difficult for me to navigate.

Imagine how dangerous these streets are for people who are older, maybe less fit and less able to make a run for it across the street.

Streets for all, not just those who can run for their lives!

But if I want to get my groceries from the Strip District, I still have to get to the 16th Street Bridge and walk past the highway exit where this sizable vehicle powered up to the sidewalk where I was standing:

And though I wasn’t trying to walk onto the highway, seeing this sign shouting “Pedestrians Prohibited” just reinforced how unwelcome I felt in the city as a person walking.

Pedestrians Prohibited
Intimidatingly Large Truck

By this point I’d walked less than half a mile but it took me nearly 20 minutes with all the waiting and trying not to die.

This area is incredibly unfriendly to pedestrians and many people do not have the luxury of investing a substantial amount of their income on a vehicle.

We need, very soon:

  • Crosswalks to be repainted
  • Pedestrian crossing signals at all intersections

Can you think of any other easy-to-implement solutions that could make this area safer for everyone?

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